Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mental Calisthenics

Some people have physically taxing jobs. Others have jobs that they are equally physically and mentally challenged. I, on many days have upwards of 9 hours where I might not have to leave my desk, barring a personal break. I'll have someone knock on my door, or my phone will ring, and I'll realize I haven't looked away from my computer screen for literally hours. some days, I can work without disruption, and then, my mind will go blank, mentally exhausted from reviewing charts of data, tiny line by line narrative in a piece of legislation or a proposed bill. When that happens, I am virtually useless until I do a complete restart of my brain. Mind wandering exercises are a necessity when I am locked into doing reports and writing issues briefings.

There's the usual, get up, stretch, take a short walk, get a cold drink, get a hot drink, etc. in hopes of shaking the cob webs. The physical break from the desk is critical, but it doesn't often help me restart my brain so I can get back on task. That's when I need to improve my brain game. I'm a numbers person. I like to calculate minute details of things, like cost and distance. Here might be one of the conversations in my head, planning a driving vacation, as I take my mental break. "How many miles between St Paul and the Black Hills, South Dakota. Well, if it takes 12 hours driving time, with two 30 minute breaks and a 15 minute break, and the average speed is 60 miles per hour, I estimate it is 640 miles." So close. Travel Math estimates it at 612 miles between St Paul and Rapid City. I'll also do a similar exercise, in reverse, like plan a grocery trip, with a capped budget, for a weekend worth of meals. "If I want to be under $25, what can I buy to supplement what's in the pantry..."

I imagine this is how smart people like engineers figured out how to send people to the moon, or a chemist tries figuring out the right ratios of chemicals and compounds to create a vaccine. I use my mental calisthenics to plan vacations and grocery trips. Just the same right? I am a big fan of Excel, and using spread sheets to calculate out when the numbers, time, or distance gets too big to hold it all in my brain. I love figuring out how the formula's work. Here is snap shot of a retirement calculator I created based on mine and DH's current and future plans. Now I know there are dozens of retirement calculators, but creating one that is customized to us, was an exercise I used last year to unclog my brain when I was trying to simplify a 36 page report into five bullet talking points. 


50 16 368,000 1.06 390,080 408,080
54 16 300,000 1.06
51 17 408,080 1.06 432,565 454,565
55 17 342,000 1.06
52 18 454,565 1.06 481,839 505,839
56 18 386,520 1.06
53 19 505,839 1.06 536,189 560,189
57 19 433,711 1.06
54 20 560,189 1.06 593,800 617,800
58 20 483,734 1.06
55 21 617,800 1.06 654,868 678,868
59 21 536,758 1.06
56 22 678,868 1.06 719,600 743,600
60 22 592,963 1.06
57 23 743,600 1.06 788,217 812,217
61 23 652,541 1.06
58 24 812,217 1.06 860,949 884,949
62 24 715,694 1.06
59 25 884,949 1.06 938,046 962,046
63 25 782,635 1.06
60 26 962,046 1.06 1,019,769 1,019,769
64 26 829,593 1.06
61 27 1,019,769 1.06 1,080,955 1,080,955
65 27 879,369 1.06
62 28 1,080,955 1.06 1,145,813 1,145,813
66 28 932,131 1.06
63 29 1,145,813 1.06 1,214,561 1,214,561
67 29 988,059 1.06
64 30 1,214,561 1.01 1,226,707 1,157,707
68 30 1,047,343 1.01
65 31 1,157,707 1.01 1,169,284 1,100,284
69 31 1,022,816 1.01
66 32 1,100,284 1.01 1,111,287 1,042,287
70 32 998,044 1.01
67 33 1,042,287 1.01 1,052,710 991,210 ss 71 33 973,025 1.01
68 34 991,210 1.01 1,001,122 954,622
72 34 947,755 1.01
69 35 954,622 1.01 964,168 917,668
73 35 922,232 1.01
70 36 917,668 1.01 926,845 880,345
74 36 896,455 1.01

If you can see the detail, you'll see the age that DH and I stop putting money in, stay flat a few years (using cash savings) and when and how much we start drawing down. I included a cost of living adjustment to the interest rate. If all pans out, according to this, I can retire at around 59 1/2, DH at 62, two years before me, and our 401K/my pension will last until I am 94 and DH is 98. I don't know if that is enough, too much, too little? I have a second chart for our Roth, which I think will get us both past 100. 

These are the things I do when I need a work break. Other people do Sudoku, crosswords, or read People, I play with Excel. I'm weird this way. Your turn. How do you dust your personal mind clutter, and recharge your brain?


  1. You are extremely good with figures!! It's interesting to see how the UK pension systems compare to yours. Jx

    1. The US does not have a pension system. A few employers still have one, though it is heavily provided by the employee share. We have social security, but a pittance. The rest, we are on our own.

  2. Depending on the initial reason for head-de-fogging, I either turn up the music and either exercise or dance madly until I am out of breath (usually when I have sat and painted for 5 hours straight and not realised where the time has gone) or take the dog out for a mad yomp and back (for the same reason) or if it I have been doing something fairly taxing (doing the books) I then brew a coffee or tea and walk into the garden to weed or walk or just sit and appreciate the space and the ability to breathe 'different' air!

    1. I do put in ear buds and listen to music, or BBC radio, but our offices are on top of each other so the dancing might casue a start. At home though, that is a good strategy.

  3. I was enjoying this post and then my eyes saw tiny numbers and my brain shut down. Numbers are not how my brain relaxes!

    1. I am an odd duck for numbers. I think I must have been an accountant in another life.

  4. Definitely not a love for numbers, so I typically take a break by doing a lap of our building complex (4 attached bldgs), or get a cup of tea. That said, I'm in meetings for around 6 hours a day, so I'm at least walking between conference rooms. Hate the level of meetings required to do my job!


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